He took his time creating another s’more. “If you think about it,” he finally said, “we already have a relationship.”
This admission caught her by surprise. She’d known. She just hadn’t realized he had as well.
“It sort of sneaked up on me,” he said softly, reaching past her for more chocolate. “Tripped me up some, I’ll give you that. But it’s true. We’re friends. Maybe even best friends. Unfortunately, it’s not enough for me.”
She stopped breathing.
“Is it enough for you, Jade?”
She opened her mouth, but before she could answer he hedged his bet by lowering his head and gently kissing her. “You asked why I’m here,” he said against her lips. “It’s because you’re a part of my life, you’re a part of me, Jade, the most important part, actually, and have been since the day you walked into Sunshine.”
She stared at him while her heart slowly rolled over in her chest and exposed its tender, vulnerable belly.
He stood, tugging her up with him and wrapping his arms around her. “You should know that my office is a mess. I f**ked up the computer system. And the printer won’t work.”
“Hmm.” She hung on, snaking her hands beneath his jacket and shirt just to touch his warm, smooth skin. “It’s only been five days.”
He tightened his grip on her. “Five and a half.”
Her hands settled on his chest, where she could feel his heart beating under her fingers. Strong and steady. Sure. “Dell.”
“I’ve missed you, too.”
“Good.” He lowered his head and kissed her, his lips promising everything his words never did.
Somehow they moved inside, mouths still fused. From a distance, Jade could hear ringing, but she didn’t want to take her mouth off of Dell’s to figure it out. If she stopped kissing him, it might turn out to be a dream.
“Your phone,” he said against her lips, then pulled reluctantly back.
She walked into her den, which she’d always used as an office. It was her fax machine, and as the papers started to spit out, she smiled, knowing she’d made the right decision.
Dell had followed her in, removing his jacket. “What?” he asked.
She held up the list of painters her mother had sent over. “I’m going to put this place up for sale.”
He went still, his eyes guarded, so carefully guarded they pierced her heart. “What does that mean?”
“It means,” she said, “that the next time you want to pick me up for a date, it’ll take you a whole hell of a lot less time to get me.”
He didn’t smile. He took the fax out of her hand and set it on the desk. He pulled her to him and looked into her eyes, his own expression dialed to his surgery face, the one that gave nothing away. He looked utterly impenetrable, but she knew him now, and she knew that he was at his most vulnerable when he felt he had to hide his thoughts. She knew that her leaving Sunshine must have brought some of his deep-seated abandonment issues to the surface, yet he’d done his best to deal with that while still stepping back and letting her make her own decisions. Bringing her hands up, she cupped his face. “You remember what I told you about my grandmother?”
He didn’t blink at the subject change. “Yes. You were named for her.”
“Yes, so I’d have her strength. I never even questioned it. I willingly followed the path she’d started. I let myself be an empty mold. No one meant to hurt me, but all my life I allowed others to make my path for me. After the attack, I lost that path. I lost me. Do you know how I found myself ?”
He gave a slow shake of his head.
“It was you, Dell. Your belief in me, to make me strong enough to say good-bye to a life I wasn’t really living, to get my own life, to choose who I am, to build that person. To be strong. Like you.”
“Jade.” His voice was thick. Clearly he was stunned and deeply affected to hear that he’d so impacted her life. “It was all you.”
“I know what you did that day you first had me organize your desk and then let me look at your accounting. And then again when you showed me how to break out of that hold. If it wasn’t for you, I’d never have discovered who I really was. Or the fact that I am not defined by the worst day of my life.”
His eyes softened. “I just wanted you to never be afraid again. To believe in yourself. And then, when that started happening, when you started gaining confidence, I realized the truth. It was happening, exactly what I wanted—you were learning to live without fear and getting strong . . . so that you could leave. I was helping you leave.” Letting out a low laugh, he pressed his forehead to hers. “Christ, that sucked.” He tilted his head and kissed her gently, eyes open, locked on hers. “I love you,” he breathed. “I love you so goddamn much it hurts.”
Her heart swelled. A single moment of terror had led to her running from everyone and everything she’d ever known, but she could no longer regret or resent it.
Not when it’d all led to this, to the best moment of her life.
She pressed her hand to his chest. “I love you, too, Dell. With all my heart. And I want my job back.”
The corners of his mouth tilted up in a slow, intimate smile. “I was hoping you would.”
“You should know, I gave up my lease on that loft in Sunshine. I’ll have to find something else.”
“I know a place.”
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s not too far from work.”
“Tell me about it.”
“It’s a house. Airy rooms, wide-open space. There’s ice cream in the freezer at all times. Pizza on speed-dial. Cats are welcome. And there’s a gym. Comes with a personal trainer. Interested?”
Her heart caught. He’d been serial dating for years and had never even brought a woman home with him. Not once.
Until her. “More than you can imagine.”
“Good.” He kissed her, not gently this time. “There’s only one thing left, then.”
She turned, and he unzipped her dress so that the bodice fell from her br**sts to the crook of her arms. Stepping close, he pressed himself against her. She could feel him hard against the cleft of her buttocks as he dipped his head and nipped at the nape of her neck. “T-terms?” she managed.
“Are you a bed hog?”
“I—” One of his hands slid up to cup her breast, his fingers teasing her nipple until she moaned and ground into him. “You already know that I am.”
“That’ll have to go on the spreadsheet.” He ran his lips down her throat to her shoulder. Her knees buckled, but he had her.
“S-spreadsheet?” She sounded like Peanut.
“Yes. We’ll need a spreadsheet to keep track of things. We don’t want any hard or hurt feelings. I’m a hot-water hog. That’ll go in my column. I’ll have to make retribution for that . . .” He pushed her dress over her h*ps so that it dropped to the floor, leaving her in her lace bra and matching thong, which pulled a rough groan from deep in his throat as he stroked the curve of her breast.
A rush seared through her so strong it was almost painful. She held her breath and waited, for it to relent, for it to lessen into a normal level of desire, but there was nothing normal here, nothing in her realm of understanding.
She’d never felt like this with anyone else before. “Will we share the cooking?”
“Or dialing for takeout.”
She started to laugh but choked on it when he pressed a hand low on her spine, urging her to bend over the desk slightly. “I dreamed about you last night,” he said, voice rough.
“You did?” She flattened her hands on the wood as he slid a hand up her thigh and let his fingers brush the front of her lace thong. “You dreamed about doing this, here, with me?”
“Yes.” His tongue traced the shell of her ear. “I dreamed of you, like this.” He thrust two fingers into her in one long, smooth movement. She gasped. With no effort, and without relenting the rhythm of his fingers, he rearranged her to suit him, spreading her legs a little, bending her over more so that he could continue to drive her mad.
Or make her beg.
“What else?” she whispered. “What else was in your dream?”
He produced a condom and protected them both. “Taking you like this.”
Wriggling back against him, she reached back and grasped his thigh. He ran a finger down her ass and she wriggled some more. “Please,” she murmured.
“Yes. But this first.” He whipped her around and set her on the desk. “I want to see you. Watch you as you come, my name on your lips.” Her thong vanished, and a second later he was poised at her entrance.
“Dell.” He was there, right there and every part of her body was trembling, on fire, so ready that each breath brought a new wave of desire and need for him. She lifted her hips, hoping to tempt him as she tried to angle herself but he held her still.
She moaned and arched against him, her br**sts pressing into his chest. He slid into her in one thrust, filling her, somehow touching every part of her, giving her the connection she’d been craving, needing. She let her head fall back on her shoulders and closed her eyes. “What else? What else did you dream?”
“Open your eyes,” he said, voice rough as he thrust again, deeper.
Filling her more than she’d thought possible.
She struggled to open her eyes, and found his hot and intense on her. “This, Jade. I dreamed of this. The way you’re looking at me, how you feel beneath me, all of it. Every night. Every minute.” His hand slid between them, unerringly finding her so that she arched into him, meeting his thrusts, clinging to him as the sensations swept over her body, building, heating, until she exploded. Somehow she managed to keep her eyes open, letting him watch as everything within her tightened and burst.
That was all it took. His control snapped, and he thrust into her hard, fast, and then stilled, groaning her name as he came.
It took her a while to come down, and even then the tremors still spiraled through her, giving her little aftershocks. “Jesus,” Dell breathed, shaking his head like he was dazed.
“How is that even possible?” she asked. “How come that’s still so . . . amazing, every single time?”
He was still inside her, and getting hard again. “Animal attraction.”
“So you’re saying . . .”
“It’s not going away.”
“That’s what I was afraid of.” But she wasn’t afraid. Not of this, not of him. She was exhilarated.
Bending low, he breathed the words against her mouth. “I’ll never get enough of you, Jade. Never. Now kiss me. Kiss me and seal our deal.”
And that’s just what she did.